Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’” And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”
“Then why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?” they asked.
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful.” Matthew 19:3-9
I find it interesting that this discussion came from a question designed to trap Jesus. Obviously, marriage and divorce were an important dilemma in Jesus’ culture. While God says in Malachi 2 that he hates divorce, if you read the context you find that God hates the actions of the unfaithful spouse—that the unfaithful spouse is heaping violence upon her (v 16).
Although Moses permitted divorce, Jesus elevated the importance of marriage. He stated that divorce should only be reserved for cases of adultery. Arguments can be made from scripture that there are other biblical reasons, including abandonment and abuse. It’s a tough and touchy subject with views that range from never divorce and never remarry to we are covered by grace.
I recently received an email from a reader encouraging me to stand in the gap in prayer for my ex-husband, praying faithfully that I might be reconciled to him. While I believe the heart is right, I sometimes feel as if some people are simply trying to trap me. I know that I will never convince them to see my point of view, and therefore I refuse to argue. But, let me share why I take the stand I do.
I believe strongly in the covenant of marriage. When I stood before God and man and pledged my life to my husband, I meant it with every ounce of my being. Divorce was never a word that entered my vocabulary. It simply was not an option.
Until it was…
I endured much throughout my seventeen year marriage. Without going into all of the private details, I will simply say that I was in a one-sided marriage. I did my best to stand strong, to love, to support, to encourage. But, in the end, he chose to break the covenant that we had made to God and one another.
When I first spoke to the divorce attorney, I told her that it was of utmost importance that my divorce was granted on biblical grounds: adultery. It was the only way that I could walk away from my marriage. When the attorney told me that I would need concrete evidence of his unfaithfulness, I pulled out a stack of emails. After a few seconds of reading, she set them aside and said, “We will file on the basis of adultery.”
Despite knowing that I had biblical grounds for divorce, it was a very difficult decision for me to walk away from a commitment, a covenant that I had made. But, I knew that I walked away having done everything I possibly could to keep my marriage together. I walked away knowing that God had given me permission to leave the covenant.
There are those who believe that even though I had biblical grounds for marriage, I am not free to remarry. They believe that I should put my life on hold, praying fervently for my ex-husband’s repentance and reconciliation.
I do pray regularly for my ex-husband. I do pray that he will experience the fullness of God’s grace and mercy. I pray that he will grow into the amazing man and father that God created him to be, the one that I once saw buried deep inside of him. I pray that he will fully surrender to God’s life-changing power, that he will allow God to do an amazing work in him so he can do an amazing work through him. I pray that all of the gifts and talents that he possesses will be used mightily for the Kingdom of God.
But I do not pray for reconciliation.
I believe that some are called to stand in the gap for their unfaithful spouses, to pray for reconciliation as long as is necessary. They represent God’s amazing power to resurrect a marriage from death to life again. And God gets the glory!
If God has told you to faithfully stand in prayer for your spouse—even if you are already divorced—then I am the first to say, “Do exactly what God has called you to do!” Trust God to do a work that you could never even conceive, something you could never ask or imagine. Cling to his promise to resurrect your marriage and allow you to be an example to the world around you of what God can do in a marriage.
But, perhaps you are like me. Perhaps your spouse has been unfaithful or abandoned you. Perhaps you have walked away, believing with all your heart that God set you free from the covenant you made with God and your spouse. You do not sense God calling you to hold to reconciliation. Instead, you believe—as I do—that God freed you from that covenant. You hear God reassuring you that he has an amazing future for you—without your former spouse.
Stand strong, and hold your head high! When others throw stones and try to condemn you for not praying for reconciliation, know that you are not alone. Know that you are covered by the grace of God, the blood of Christ Jesus. Know that Satan is the accuser of the brethren, and the Holy Spirit comes only to gently and lovingly convict you of sin. If you feel guilt and condemnation, it is not from God.
While I longed to be one of the marriages that was resurrected, that has not been the reality for me. For whatever reason, my ex-husband did not choose to surrender. The conflict between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will may forever be a mystery to me.
But, what I know is that God needs some of us whose marriages did not survive so that we can minister to others in our situation. While I never would have chosen this journey, I would also never go back to the way things were. God can use my divorce for his glory just like he can use those marriages that have been resurrected from the dead.
I may never fully understand why God chose this path for me, but I will be faithful to use it for his glory—to allow him to use it to mold me in his image, to build my faith, to minister to others.
I will never apologize for the path I am traveling because I am doing my best to follow my Savior.
And therein lies the key: get so close to the Savior that you can know what he is calling you to. Is he calling you to faithfully seek reconciliation? Then fervently pray that direction. Has he set you free from your covenant? Then walk forward with joy, in anticipation of an abundant future, and the confident reassurance that you are approved by God.
Lord Jesus, I know there are many suffering from the guilt that is often heaped upon our heads. I pray that you would give each one strength and confidence, reassurance from you that they are approved. I pray that they would see how you can use their situation—whatever it may look like—for your glory if they will only surrender. Help them to walk so closely to you that there is not a doubt as to the path they should take. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.